Why Gen-Y's Definition Of Beauty Is Skewed And How I Tried To Change It

by Robin van der Vegt

The idea for this article, or maybe even experiment, started when my boyfriend stated:

“We (guys) don’t like it when girls wear makeup; you girls are doing that for yourselves and to yourselves.”

I was stunned and replied:

“I bet you wouldn’t even have come to talk to me the night we met if I wasn’t wearing makeup.”

It made me think. Why was I wearing makeup? It makes me look prettier, of course. In whose eyes, though? Mine, or those of other people? To other girls or boys? Why is it necessary to make myself look prettier at all?

When I go without makeup, I typically get remarks like: "Are you sick?" "What’s wrong with you?" "You don’t look good." Little do these people know, it's just me, barefaced and natural. I usually smile and apologize for my apparently distasteful appearance by saying: "No, sorry, this is just what I look like."

These comments always make me feel bad about myself, but I have to admit, I tend to agree with them.

The Experiment

I wanted to do an experiment in which I would go without makeup for one week. I wanted to see what would happen. Would I get less attention from boys? How often would people ask me if I was sick?

More importantly, how would I feel? Would I be aware of the fact I wasn’t wearing makeup all the time? Would I feel more self-conscious? I was praying I wouldn’t have any breakouts that week.

I noticed I was delaying the start of this makeup-free week. I was making all kinds of excuses for why I couldn’t go somewhere without makeup. I put off important parties, meetings and anniversaries. I noticed I really didn’t want to go without makeup cause I wouldn't feel my best. As soon as I realized what I was doing, I pushed myself to go forth with the experiment. After all, I felt I was being ridiculous for feeling afraid of just being me.

#NowTrending: Natural Beauty

I kicked off the week by posting a selfie on Instagram and Facebook, so people would know what I was doing and why -- a great way to start the discussion.

The comment left by my boyfriend, “How to lose a boyfriend in a week,” got more likes than the actual picture. It was all tough talk, of course, since he insisted he liked me better au naturale. Someone texted me without hesitation to say that I looked great, but I looked better with makeup. Though I may agree, it still pissed me off. I was offended; I felt like I was being criticized for being myself.

In the weeks I was pushing this experiment ahead, the #nomakeupselfie went viral. What started out as support from author Laura Lippman for Kim Novak, who was cruelly critized for her appearance at the Oscars, suddenly turned into a social media campaign for breast cancer awareness. While the connection between the two things is still a bit lost on me, it did spark a discussion about natural beauty.

People who always hated selfies were all of a sudden praising the #nomakeupselfie. Then, of course, there was Beyoncé, who (unintentionally) started a whole campaign for natural beauty with #Iwokeuplikethis. Celebs and normal folks alike posted all their morning wake-up photos.

I noticed that in the #nomakeupselfies and the #Iwokeuplikethis, #flawless selfies, women were smiling and laughing; while in most selfies, we generally try to look sexy, bitchy or some other supermodel imitation. When we go au naturale, we seek to display our inner beauty. We smile, we look more open and we show our softer side. In a way, we are actually still enhancing our looks.

I noticed the same thing when I went outside without makeup on. I tried to hide my blotchy, bare skin under a big smile and shine as much as I could. It wasn’t because I felt free; I feel the need to “make up” for my lack of makeup. I was trying to get people to like me, not for looking “pretty” but for looking happy and nice. Without my concealer, I wanted to conceal my imperfections with a smile.

Realizing My Tendency To Want To Cover Up

Somehow, the growing support for breast cancer awareness and the waking up flawless campaign felt a bit empty and maybe even fake. Don’t get me wrong, anything that supports good causes like health, cancer awareness, feminism and a healthy self-image, I advocate for. However, most of these pictures touted filters, so that’s adding a layer of concealer in a different way.

Beyoncé covered half her face, and so did many other celebs. Some celebs even had perfect makeup in their #nomakeupselfie. Of course, right after posting these pictures, we all run to the mirror to paint on our faces.

I couldn’t run to my makeup collection after my selfie because I vowed to go a week without it. In my head I was trying to cheat all week: Does dying my eyelashes count as makeup? What about self-tanner? Nail polish?

Men vs. Women

A friend of mine told me that at her old job, every girl was obligated to wear makeup. She said it was because the managers didn’t want the girls’ faces to show whether they were sad or tired.

I’ve had jobs where I wasn’t allowed to wear a lot of crazy makeup and men weren’t allowed to look too grungy. We all had to look clean. However, I find it appalling that women should ever be forced to wear makeup.

I understand that jobs require women to leave our personal lives at home and not look like a zombie at work as a result of some drama-induced episode, but what about men? Do they have to wear concealer and blush to look like their freshest selves? Nope. Only women were forced to wear makeup at said company.

Why does this company not even think twice about telling women their natural faces aren’t appreciated, but for men it’s fine? Somehow makeup is a must for women and unnecessary for men. Why aren’t we just accepted the way we are? Why aren't the physical appearance expectations of men held to the same standard of women?

Stepping Out Of My Comfort Zone

During the day, I wouldn’t feel so bad about not wearing any makeup, but I knew that at the end of the week, the biggest challenge would come: going out without anything on my face. A little black dress just doesn’t seem complete without a little bit of black mascara.

I didn’t wear any jewelry that week, or any fancy clothes. Is self-enhancement a slippery slope? If makeup leads to wearing jewelry, fake eyelashes and push-up bras, where do we draw the line? Cosmetic surgery? How many? Are we ever good enough?

So, at the end of the week, I went out in sneakers, jeans and a t-shirt -- hair down, no jewelry, just me and some necessary clothing. Where I live, in Malta, girls tend to dress up a lot for going out. The dresses couldn’t be shorter, the heels couldn’t be higher and there is never enough fake eyelashes, glitter or red lipstick. Here, more is more, and less is not good enough. Needless to say, I definitely felt weird.

I was apologizing the whole night for my appearance, even though I knew I shouldn’t. While talking about my makeup-free self, all the boys in the group agreed: They like girls with makeup. Ha! I knew it! One point for me, but then I felt even worse sitting there, face naked.

One guy said now he doesn’t care whether his girlfriend wears makeup or not; he thinks she is beautiful either way. His emphasis was on the now. He did find makeup important before, but now, because of his love for her, he sees her differently.

It’s like seeing your ex and wondering if he always looked that bad. Yes, he did, but I guess love is like makeup in a way.

Confidence Exudes True Beauty

As the week went by, I began to see myself differently. Usually, when I would look in the mirror at my bare face, I would see an unfinished me -- ready for bed, or ready for putting on my real face. However, after a week of no makeup at all, I saw myself differently. I saw the same person I would normally see with makeup on: my true self; the real, pretty me.

I think it’s perfectly acceptable for a woman to prefer to wear makeup. I feel better about myself with my mascara and blush applied, but, please, let’s not criticize each other for not all doing the same. I would very much like to be able to hold my naked head high, and I applaud women who do the same with confidence.

Realizing how obsessed I was with not being able to wear makeup made me realize how strong these chains are. We fail to recognize beauty without enhancing it, and men fail to recognize our beauty without us enhancing it. Even though we are all momentarily celebrating our true beauty online, offline, we are enhancing, hiding and portraying ourselves differently than how we really look. Enhancing in itself leads to bigger issues. There is always bigger, better, more.

Only if we would drop all the make-up and flattering beauty-products, we could be truly happy with all we got. But because we keep changing the way we naturally are, our faces will be perceived as unhealthy when they are naked, photoshop will make us all feel like walking cellulite disasters and cosmetic surgery makes us question all of our body parts.

The obsession with beauty is greater than I even realized. Can we ever show who we truly are?

Photo via CW Networks/Gossip Girl